BACKGROUND: A 15-year-old patient with a history of mental health problems lives in a residential care home. Her social worker contacts her GP, Dr A, and asks for access to the girl’s medical records so that her file can be updated. Dr A asks the social worker to put the request in writing and to also provide evidence that the patient has consented to the release of her records.
The next day the practice receives a faxed request for copies of referral letters to psychiatric services. This is accompanied by a consent form, signed by the patient but dated almost two years ago. Dr A is concerned about the length of time that has passed since the form was signed and contacts MDDUS for advice.
OUTCOME/ANALYSIS: An MDDUS adviser discusses the issue with Dr A and agrees that the consent is now so old as to be no longer valid. While there is no specific or official time limit on consent taken in advance of treatment or for other purposes such as third party disclosure of confidential information, it would be advisable to review it in this case.
The adviser highlights the General Medical Council’s Consent – making decisions together guidance which would be relevant in this situation. It encourages decisions about treatment to be reviewed where "significant time has passed since the initial decision was made". The guidance also clearly states that patients have the right to "change their mind about a decision at any time".
As the consent in this case is out-of-date, there is no good reason for the GP to grant the social worker access to the patient’s records. Dr A is advised to inform the social worker and ask him to supply an up-to-date signed consent form.
- Ensure consent is up-to-date, particularly if a significant time has passed since it was given by the patient.
- When sharing patient information with a third party, ensure the consent given is sufficient and relevant to the request being made.